Thunderstone is a deck-building game designed by Mike Elliott, and published by the Alderac Entertainment Group, also known as AEG, who are responsible for bringing you numerous CCG (Collectible Card Game) and board games such as Nightfall, Legend of the Five Rings, and my personal favorite Smash Up. In the time since Thunderstone‘s release in 2009, its popularity has prompted numerous expansions, as well as a major revision entitled Thunderstone Advance. It’s also been nominated for a few awards, including the coveted Origins Award, and is often credited (along with Dominion, another favorite of mine) for triggering the wave of deck-building games that have hit the scene in recent years.
For any that don’t know, a deck-building game refers to card-based games that revolve around the dynamic of players drafting the cards that they want, and shuffling them into their decks for future use. Different cards usually confer different abilities, allowing for a myriad of card interactions. Usually games in the genre will contain more cards than are needed to actually play as well, allowing for substitutions of one card type for another between games. This in turn, results in a large amount of variation from match to match, and requires players to adopt new strategies often. Successful players are the ones who can quickly recognize strong card combinations that will get them closer to their goal. In Thunderstone, that goal boils down to monster slaying.
Each player starts out on even footing, with the same twelve cards in their deck. Half of these are small, useful items with a trivial amount of gold value. The other half are generic Hero cards with no gold value, and the ability to deal only minimal damage. After shuffling, a player begins their turn by drawing six cards into their hand. At this point they have a few options, but the majority of the time players will choose to go to the Village or the Dungeon. At the Village gold can be spent to buy a card into your deck. There are several different card types available to purchase, with a varying array of spells, items, and weapons available. Other cards available for purchase are specialized Heroes such as wizards and clerics, and occasionally Villagers that aren’t always usually useful in battle, but may have other special effects you might find beneficial.
Alternately at the Dungeon the player can encounter one of the monsters there. Monsters come out three at a time, each of the three representing progressively deeper levels of the Dungeon, and the player gets to choose which to fight. Sometimes the monster closest to the surface isn’t always your best target though, so savvy players should always put a light source or two in their deck if they hope to have an edge against the cards in the deeper levels. Defeated monster cards get put into the player’s deck and earn the victor XP points that can be used to upgrade their specialized Heroes into higher ranked versions. Additionally, they are worth VP at the end of the game, which is the end goal to all this slaying. The game ends when the Thunderstone card inserted into the last ten cards of the monster deck is acquired. When the game ends, the player with the most VP is the winner.
Thunderstone is best for 2-4 players, but does support up to 5. The number of Heroes and other cards available doesn’t scale for more people however, so games with more players tend to take longer since there are fewer high level resources to go around. The game is not overly complicated, but it does have quite a few dynamics at work, so first time players are encouraged to peruse the rulebook before diving in. Once you have a few games under your belt, you can expect an average game to last about an hour to an hour and a half, but you likely won’t notice the time going by as you’ll be eagerly looking forward to trying a different strategy or card combination in your next game. With several expansions available in addition to the base game, exploring all of the options available will likely take some time. Get started by coming in to Slackers and picking up a copy of Thunderstone today.